As a year out student from Sheffield University, I came prepared for anything that the industry could throw at me. I was prepared for potential monotony, the odd tea making and site visits to see schemes under construction. But when my boss told me to bend the spoon, I was a little perplexed to say the least. Allow me to explain.
Our client is a landlord with a series of Victorian Mansion blocks in Kensington and Chelsea, looking to revive the current courtyards that have become little more than utility spaces between the red brick buildings. We could have gone down the traditional route of providing aluminium planters, shrub planting and the odd piece of sculpture, but instead we were told by Peter to go a little crazy. He explained that our objective was not to create a landscape but to create a film set, a place where people would emerge into a totally unexpected environment, an immersive experience. It should be like putting on a pair of VR goggles and letting your imagination run wild.
The five individual courtyards were divided up among the team who were told not to discuss their ideas until everyone had had a chance to develop a scheme. Then when we came to the table to discuss our ideas, the themes of; vertical green, desert, Zen, rainforest, woodland and cottage garden were agreed with the aim being to keep the loadings on the slab as low as possible. I drew the short straw, the task of designing a woodland garden in a London Courtyard. How would it be possible to get trees, shrubs and understory planting complete with a woodland boardwalk all into such a small space whilst maintaining the necessary fire escape routes? I came up with a few concepts but struggled with the task of accommodating the planting and anchoring of trees.
Then, Peter said to the team “Do you know that famous quote from the Matrix? Do not try to bend the spoon, that’s impossible, only realise the truth, there is no spoon”. Still perplexed he explained, “We are not trying to create a real woodland in a podium deck courtyard, that’s impossible. We are only trying to create a facsimile of a woodland, the experience of being in an English woodland for weary London residents who are tired of staring into an abyss of concrete”.
The exercise is one that has breathed fresh air into the office. It’s a chance not only for residents to escape, but for our team to explore new ideas and approaches that wouldn’t usually be discussed for a London garden, like what is the essence of Zen and how do we create the feeling of arid in an often grey and wet climate. It has also given Wilder Associates a chance to bring some of the gardens it has been designing around the world (currently 18 countries) back home.
It has been a risky exercise and one where we weren’t sure what the client’s reaction would be. Thankfully they have been surprised and delighted by our response. And as to the final solution for the woodland garden? Well you’ll have to wait and see, but thankfully not too long. Construction is due to commence on site later this year and completed in Spring 2019, well ahead of my return to Sheffield in September.
By Simon Cording.